Friday, March 30, 2012


In a post he titles "'Success' Is a Hollow Goal," Matt Chandler discourages pastors from using the culture's standards for "success." Illustrating the point:
Here are a few men who loved our great God and King and were obedient beyond the norm:
  • Moses spends his whole life with grumbling whiners and dies without getting to walk into the promised land.
  • Samson suicide bombs the Philistines, and when the dust settles, he is dead and the Philistines still rule over Israel.
  • One of David's sons rapes his sister and another leads a rebellion against him, dethroning him for a season.
  • Jeremiah ends up in exile with the rest of the country after repeatedly getting beaten for preaching what God commanded him to preach.
  • John the Baptizer is beheaded by a pervert who gives his head to a 15-year-old stripper.
  • Peter is killed, reportedly crucified upside down.
  • Paul is killed in Rome but only after he spends his life (with thorn intact) being beaten, rejected, lost at sea, and consistently dealing with people coming in behind him and destroying what he built.
"Success" Is a Hollow Goal | The Resurgence"Success" Is a Hollow Goal | The Resurgence

The bubble

Tom Chivers, at The Telegraph, has been reading The Righteous Mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion by Jonathan Haidt:
They asked two thousand Americans to describe their political leanings (liberal, moderate, conservative) and fill out a questionnaire about morality, one-third of the time as themselves, one-third of the time as a "typical liberal", and one-third of the time as a "typical conservative". The clear answer was: self-described conservatives and moderates were much better at predicting what other people would believe. Liberals, especially the "very liberal", were by far the worst at guessing what people would say, and especially bad at guessing what conservatives would say about issues of care or fairness. For example, most thought that conservatives would disagree with statements like "One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenceless animal" or "Justice is the most important requirement for a society". .... [more]
Which helps explain the statement "conservatives think liberals are stupid and liberals think conservatives are evil." A conservative blogger:
...[T]he reason why conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives is because you cannot avoid the liberal mindset in this culture even if you wanted to. It’s flipping everywhere: and you have to learn to recognize at least the basics in sheer mimetic self-defense. Contrariwise, it is exceedingly easy for liberals to ignore conservatives if they so desire; and most liberals do. Honestly, if conservatives could ignore liberals we probably would; we would, if we could, but we can’t, so we don’t. ....
Thanks to Jim Geraghty at NRO for the references.

Why liberals need conservatives, and vice versa – Telegraph Blogs

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Living as if....

Non-Christian and non-pacifist Eric Cohen reviews War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity by Stanley Hauerwas:
.... Stanley Hauerwas, one of the most distinguished and surely most interesting Christian thinkers of the modern era, has been in the middle of this moral and theological fray for decades, arguing in various ways that being a Christian means never killing others in war. His new collection of essays, War and the American Difference, is his latest effort to show what it would mean to abolish war, and what it would mean to really live as Christ lived, and to live in the faith and knowledge that Christ’s coming has changed everything. In fact, the central argument of the book is that war has already been abolished, because in Christ we have a way—the only way—to live in peace in the face of the world’s evils.

The essays are provocative, cutting, and filled with interesting nuggets of existential insight into the condition of man and the meaning of faith. And Hauerwas is, in general, charitable to his opponents, be they Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, or Paul Ramsey. But the larger argument—that we can live as if war has been abolished and that faith in God requires that we live that way—is morally unconvincing and at times morally perverse. ....

For Hauerwas, there is no such thing as a just war, since Christ is the embodiment of justice, and the revelation of Christ is that men should not and need not kill the other we are called to love. He believes the tragic necessity of war is an illusion. It is the denial of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, which we have replaced with the blood sacrifices of modern war. The only answer—for him, the only Christian answer—is to "sacrifice the sacrifices of war" and to see the truth that the new reign of peace has already come. ....

If Hauerwas is the realist he claims to be, let him at least be realistic and honest about what will likely happen if love is our only weapon against those who believe that sending young girls to the gas chamber is rational or that nuclear war against Israel might bring about the new reign of God on earth. ....

...[I]f Hauerwas’ political theology is the true political theology of Christianity, then Christianity is a form of eschatological madness. And most Christians I know are not mad; indeed, they are, in general, the best hope for preserving a decent, God-seeking, free society in the face of the politics of death, desperation, and domination. ....

I do not believe that Hauerwas sees America’s enemies as "harmless, tame, and gentle creatures." He is too smart for that. But either he believes that loving them (combined with our unilateral disarmament) would change them or that dying under their sword would be the only right way to live. .... [more]
Darrell Cole, in "The Problem of War" summarizes C.S. Lewis on the subject of Christian pacifism.

The Sacrifices of War | First Things

Too few books in the Canon?

A Catholic blogger, Joe Heschmeyer, argues that Mark Driscoll is not only wrong about what we Protestants call the Old Testament Apocrypha, but that he is "...not wrong in the sense that I disagree with his reasoning or belief. Wrong in the sense that he makes factual claims that are objectively false." Heschmeyer later comments that "For the record, I think he's sloppy, not acting out of bad faith. He gets historical details wrong all over the place, and on important events." Heschmeyer:
Popular Protestant pastor Mark Driscoll (of Mars Hill church) thinks we Catholics have too many Books in our Bibles. That's no surprise; almost all Protestants think this. But thankfully, Driscoll takes the time to explain why he thinks this, which makes it easy to show where and how he's wrong.

If you're not familiar, the Catholic Bible has seven more Books [Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch (including the Epistle of Jeremy, a.k.a., Baruch 6), 1 and 2 Maccabees], along with longer versions of Esther and Daniel, compared to the Protestant Bible. We call these Books the Deuterocanon; Protestants call them (and several other books) the Apocrypha. So the question is: are Catholic Bibles too big? Or are Protestant Bibles too small? ....
Joe Heschmeyer goes on to quote Driscoll's arguments, responding to each.

A good description of the relationship of the Apocrypha to the rest of the Old Testament can be found here: [Thanks, Ben]

Shameless Popery: Mark Driscoll and the Canon of Scripture

Re-binding a Bible

Not long ago I purchased an ESV Single Column Legacy Bible, attracted by the idea of a paragraphed, single-column, Bible in my preferred translation, and with a font large enough to avoid eye strain. It is a pleasure to read [see the page at the right - it can be enlarged], but I wasn't satisfied with the binding. That was my own fault — among the various choices I had chosen the least expensive — but if I was going to make this my everyday Bible I wanted something better.

Happily, the Legacy ESV has a sewn binding — signatures sewn to the spine — which makes it a good candidate for re-binding. Some time ago  J. Mark Bertrand's Bible Design Blog had posted an entry highly recommending Leonard's Book Restoration Station, and specifically "Leonard’s Historical Bible Series," which includes a variety of bindings designed to give a "retro look." I decided that I would like my modern translation in such a binding, especially if the quality of the binding was good — and attractive as well.

The way Leonard's works is that you send them the Bible, old or new — they also do restorations of old Bibles and other books — with the style of binding you want, along with any specific requests. They provide an estimate of the cost after which, if you are satisfied, they will proceed with the work, billing you when it is completed and ready to be shipped back.

I asked for my ESV Legacy to be re-bound  in their "17th Century Country Parson Style (Softcover Version)." I got my Bible back this week, re-bound, and I am very pleased. Here it is:
If you would like to do something similar, or get any book — old or new — restored or just re-bound, consider Leonard's.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Another threat?

Although not [yet] required, this seems consistent with the recent healthcare mandates by HHS:
The Story: Evangelical organizations that partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to deliver humanitarian aid overseas are voicing concern and outrage over a new federal policy that "strongly encourages" all contractors to develop anti-discrimination policies covering employees' sexual orientation, says Christianity Today.

The Background: Many Christian charities require employees to agree to adhere to Biblical standards of conduct relating to sexuality. For example, World Vision requires all their U.S. employees to sign a statement of faith and agree to a standard of conduct that limits sexuality to 'a God-ordained covenant between a man and a woman'."

"For a government agency to 'strongly encourage' us to abandon such core beliefs in our hiring policies is offensive and uncalled for," World Vision's senior vice president Kent Hill told Christianity Today. ....
Evangelical Organizations Concerned About Potential Threat to Religious Liberty – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Conservative, not libertarian

While conservatives share many libertarian concerns about overweening government, conservatism isn't libertarianism. Robert P. George reviews a new book by Mark Blitz:
What is it, exactly, that contemporary American conservatism seeks to conserve? What should it conserve? What is worth conserving?

How about liberty?

Most American conservatives would applaud that proposal, which shows, among other things, how far the American Right is from the "throne and altar" conservatism of old Europe, with its class system and devotion to hierarchy and stability. American conservatives are, in truth, old-fashioned liberals—in the tradition of the American Founders, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Abraham Lincoln. Because American conservatives prize liberty, they might be described—as Mark Blitz describes them in his new book, Conserving Liberty—as "conservative liberals."

A professor of political philosophy and the director of the Henry Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College, Blitz points out that just as contemporary American conservatism differs from European conservatism, it differs, too, from contemporary liberalism with its "affirmative action, gender politics, and ethnic spoils and sensitivities that affirm such groups." American conservatives believe in equality, to be sure, but theirs is the God-given equality of the Declaration of Independence, not the equality of results or the "equality"—based moral relativism promoted by many contemporary liberals.

Although the book's title might sound like a brief for libertarianism, Blitz quickly sets the reader straight. It is not that he opts for "big government conservatism," but rather that he recognizes that liberty is valuable not so much for its own sake as for the sake of something larger, namely, human excellence or human flourishing. And he understands that liberty is sustained—if it is sustained at all—by virtues that themselves must be transmitted by healthy institutions of civil society, beginning with the marriage-based family and communities of religious faith. .... [more]
At "Public Discourse," Nathan Schlueter explains "Why I am Not a Libertarian"
.... Libertarians are good at explaining why the market works and why government fails, and they have made important policy initiatives in areas such as school choice. On the other hand, they actively oppose laws prohibiting obscenity, protecting unborn children, promoting marriage, limiting immigration, and securing American citizens against terrorists. These positions flow from core principles that have more in common with modern liberalism than with the American founding, and which threaten to erode our constitutional order even further.

The attraction of libertarianism is also its main defect: it offers neat solutions to complex problems. .... [more]
Schlueter than goes on to consider "ten claims libertarians often make."

The Claremont Institute - Conservatism Properly Understood, Why I am Not a Libertarian « Public Discourse

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Wisconsin Supreme Court

Via Althouse, in the beautiful Wisconsin Capitol, the Supreme Court chamber:

"Then friends shall meet again..."

Today Conjubilant with Song posts about one of my favorite American hymns, appropriate for Lent. Two of the verses here were unfamiliar to me, but I like them.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Then friends shall meet again, who have loved, who have loved,
Then friends shall meet again, who have loved;
Then friends shall meet again, in Jesus' presence, when
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved, who have loved,
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved.

Ye winged seraphs, fly! Bear the news, bear the news.
Ye winged seraphs fly! bear the news;
Ye winged seraphs fly! Like comets through the sky,
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news,
Fill vast eternity with the news!

Anonymous; composite; 19th cent.
American folk tune; The Southern Harmony, 1840
The post includes information about the hymn which first appeared in 1811 and includes this about the tune:
The tune for this hymn, adapted from an earlier folk tune, was first printed in the second edition of William Walker's The Southern Harmony (1840), in three-part harmony (and with only one stanza of the text). There have been many different arrangements of the tune since then, not only in hymnals but also as choral anthems and instrumental pieces.

Conjubilant with Song: Like Comets Through the Sky

Friday, March 23, 2012

A focused and intentional neglect

Via Justin Taylor, a good sermon on Sabbath:
J.R. Vassar, pastor of Apostles Church (New York City), talks on Jesus’s words that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28):

J.R. Vassar attributes many of the ideas in this sermon to Mark Buchannan’s The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.

It’s about hermeneutics

How the creation accounts in the first three chapters of Genesis can be reconciled with evolution is one of those questions I largely avoid. I believe in the authority of Scripture and I also think there is ample evidence for an extremely old universe. The question isn't central to my understanding of the faith and so I am content to wait on its resolution, assuming that the apparent contradictions may not be. Others, however, do address the issue, knowing that it can be a stumbling block for those struggling with their faith. Internet Monk re-posts Peter Enns who has, I think, contributed usefully to the "Adam/Evolution discussion." Here is the first of three responses to arguments that Enns identifies as "Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion":
1. It’s all about the authority of the Bible.
I can understand why this claim might have rhetorical effect, but this issue is not about biblical authority. It’s about how the Bible is to be interpreted. It’s about hermeneutics.

It’s always about hermeneutics.

I know that in some circles “hermeneutics” is code for “let’s find a way to get out of the plain meaning of the text.” But even a so-called “plain” or “literal” reading of the Bible is a hermeneutic—an approach to interpretation.

Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (even if implicit) as much as any other approach, and so needs to be defended as much as any other. Literalism is not the default godly way to read the Bible that preserves biblical authority. It is not the “normal” way of reading the Bible that gets a free pass while all others must face the bar of judgment.

So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate literalist conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.”

The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others.

To put all this another way, appealing to biblical authority does not tell you how to interpret the Bible. That requires a lot more work. It always has. “Biblical authority” is a predisposition to the text. It is not a hermeneutic. [more]
I haven't yet read the posts beyond the first one at the following links:
Pete Enns on Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion |, Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion | Peter Enns

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't know much about history

Jim Geraghty explains one of the reasons most Americans don't know their country's history very well (another reason is that many of their teachers don't either):
To the extent that our high schools teach American history, they begin before the Revolution and work up to as close to the present as time permits. If your classes were like mine, the process of advancing through history inevitably slowed at points, and everything after World War Two was cramped and rushed to get in before final exams. Maybe the class got up to Vietnam or so. Even in higher education, the not-too-distant history — say, post-Watergate — is relatively uncovered and unexplained, in part because it’s too recent to be “history” and in part because it’s less “interesting” than the bigger conflicts. .... In this country, we’re blessed with a popular fascination with history, but only on certain topics and eras: the American Revolution, the Civil War, the “Old West,” World War Two, the era of Prohibition and Gangsters...

So as much as it may seem that Americans walk around with only a cursory knowledge of key eras of the nation’s history, they’re probably even less informed about not-so-distant history. About a decade ago, among a group of otherwise smart and well-informed friends, I made a reference to Idi Amin. (This was before the release of the movie The Last King of Scotland.) No one knew who I was talking about.
The 9th grade classes I taught were the second full year of US history presented to my students. I began with the turn of the 20th century. Even so, it was difficult to do justice to the post-WWII era — and that amounted to about fifty years. We'd reach the end of the Cold War in foreign policy and a little past Watergate in domestic political events.

Our Recent History: The Undiscovered Country! - By Jim Geraghty - The Campaign Spot - National Review Online

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

At the end of the week...

Kevin Emmert at Christianity Today on "The 'Above All' Commandment of the Sabbath":
.... We love those verses that emphasize disciplined activity. Yet most of us probably have never even considered that the Sabbath may be the most important "discipline." Consider this:
And the Lord said to Moses, "You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, 'Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.'"(Ex. 31:12-13, ESV used throughout)
We may debate how the Sabbath should be observed, but we all recognize the value of taking a day of rest. However, this passage suggests features of the Sabbath we typically overlook.

For example, this passage says that the Sabbath is an "above all" command. It is as if God said, "This is the most important one!" A careful look at the context in the Book of Exodus reinforces the point. ....

...[P]astor Tim Keller said in one interview that though sanctification requires enormous effort, it is not "works based" but rather comes by continuously "reorienting ourselves to our justification." Keller teaches that sanctification is living in accordance with our justification, which is a free gift. Therefore, even in sanctification we acknowledge that God is the primary agent, and that our works contribute nothing on their own. So in both sanctification and justification, Christians are declared righteous and are continually being made righteous solely by the free grace of God. Though we are called to be active, the "activity" seems mostly to mean the call to rest, to trust, to freely receive sanctification from God.

The Sabbath, therefore, helps us realize we completely depend on God for all our needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual.

So, can we just sit back and passively wait for some mystical experience to transform us? As Paul would say, "By no means!" God is not dependent on our doings, but like many aspects of life, he has gladly chosen to use us and our activities to transform us. Thus, the story of Israel remains significant today. Although Israel was instructed to obey God's commands in order to "be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45), at the end of the week the only thing they had to do was relax; in the midst of their religious busyness, they were called to simply remember that God alone sanctified them. As Paul put it, "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:7). Only God brings about our transformation. That is something we can count on, and rest in. (more)
The 'Above All' Commandment of the Sabbath | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace”

Jay Nordlinger is the author of Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, published this week. There is, he writes in the current issue of National Review, "no subject on which it is easier to be glib than that of peace." From that article:
.... We can confidently say what peace is not: It is not the mere absence of war, as President Kennedy noted, and as countless others have noted. And yet, peace is not war either. “I hate war,” said FDR, in that incomparable voice of his. Well, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t hate war, except for psychopaths, some of whom rise to power? And the man who said “I hate war” waged it, in Europe, in the Pacific, and wherever else he found it necessary.

When people debate whether their country should go to war, they are divided into “pro-war” and “anti-war” camps .... Those labels are more than a little unfair; they are at the least bothersome. Are those who conclude that war is necessary, or just, or the lesser of two evils, really pro-war, and not anti-war? ....

You are familiar with the slogan, “War is not the answer.” But it is the answer to some questions, of course — as when it put paid to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Emerson said, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” A fine sentiment, but unfortunately not true — or not strictly true. Again, the Second World War is instructive. And you might say that understanding can lead a person, or a nation, to see that violence is the only way to put down a threat, and thereby keep or attain peace. ....

Bob Dylan has a song called “Man of Peace” — a rather tart and cynical, but not unreasonable, song. “He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue, / He knows every song of love that ever has been sung. . . . He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist. . . . You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” That is the song’s refrain: “You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” And if Dylan’s not your bag, you might consider a line from Psalms — the 28th Psalm — which talks of “the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts.” ....

In 1949, Stalin or the Soviet government — was there a difference? — created the Stalin Peace Prize, more formally the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace among Peoples. This was the Kremlin’s answer to the Nobel Peace Prize. One of the earliest winners was Howard Fast, the American novelist. He received his award from the hand of an even more celebrated American, W.E.B. Du Bois. In his acceptance speech, Fast lamented that neither this prize nor “the name it bears” — Stalin’s — was “greatly honored by the men who govern my country.” But “peace is honored and beloved of millions of the American people, indeed, of almost all of them.” Fast also said, “If I had no other cause for honoring the Soviet Union, I would honor it greatly and profoundly for giving prizes for peace.” (A quick reminder: The Soviet state killed about 20 million people.) ....
And most of the 20 million were killed while the USSR was at "peace."

Peace, They Say by Jay Nordlinger - National Review Online

"Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture"

Via Internet Monk, good advice for any Christian who ventures into a dispute without sufficient knowledge. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]   St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis
More Tired Rhetoric |

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From conception to birth

Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized - YouTube

Self-centered faith

I just ordered Bad Religion by Ross Douthat. From the Amazon description:
.... He argues that America’s problem isn’t too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.

These faiths speak from many pulpits—conservative and liberal, political and pop cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably “spiritual”—and many of their preachers claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity—not the real thing. Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.

.... Ranging from Glenn Beck to Barack Obama, Eat Pray Love to Joel Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey to The Da Vinci Code, Douthat explores how the prosperity gospel’s mantra of “pray and grow rich,” a cult of self-esteem that reduces God to a life coach, and the warring political religions of left and right have crippled the country’s ability to confront our most pressing challenges and accelerated American decline. .... Bad Religion eBook: Ross Douthat: Kindle Store

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"I believe"

Another reason to like Lyle Lovett: Gene Veith on "Lyle Lovett confesses his faith with his church":
Three generations–all members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, Texas–confess their faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, which itself goes back through generation after generation in the church of Jesus Christ. First we hear from Erich Klenk, 97 years old. Then we hear from singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett (of whom I am a big fan). Then we hear from fourth-grader Erin Pali. ....

Lyle Lovett confesses his faith with his church

Ignatius "Quotables"

The Ignatius Press, which is an orthodox Catholic publishing house, has a whole lot of "Quotables" in Facebook like those below. Some of them are distinctively Catholic but many are not. I particularly like these [I seldom dislike anything by Chesterton]:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Madison this afternoon

Looking across Lake Mendota toward the Capitol late this afternoon. The ice is gone except for a little floating on the water and a few piles along the shoreline. The temperature, when I took the picture, was in the mid-60s. Shirtsleeve weather. Lots of people in shorts and the parks active. Tomorrow the prediction is 78. And the expectation is 70s for the rest of the week. It's almost midnight now and 54. This is enough of a harbinger of spring that I can easily tolerate a couple more cold blasts and even some more snow.

Pleasantly surprised

I tend to be pessimistic about how much attention the average American gives public policy issues and I was particularly doubtful that most could resist the deliberate attempt to divert attention from the religious liberty case against the contraception [sterilization, abortafacient] mandate to "the war on women." I may have been excessively pessimistic. James Taranto points out the answers to two rather well-framed questions in a New York Times poll released yesterday:
The actual poll results show that the question about the birth-control mandate was asked two ways:
73. Do you think health insurance plans for all employees should have to cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees, or should employers be allowed to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?

74. What about for religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university? Do you think their health insurance plans for all employees should have to cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees, or should they be allowed to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?
Results: By 51% to 40%, respondents think employers should be permitted to opt out. By 57% to 36%, they think religiously affiliated employers should be permitted to opt out. ....
It is only one poll but I feel a bit more optimistic.

The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being
either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
George F. Will

Where's the Afterglow? -

Monday, March 12, 2012

Everything isn't political

Re-posted from January 4, 2010

I graduated from high school in 1964. The music I bought and played obsessively was "folk music" by groups like the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the New Christie Minstrels. I was offended when the older people I worked with at the local museum — rather contemptuously, I thought — dismissed my enthusiasm. What I thought was folk music was not what they thought it was. They were pretty much right. It didn't even occur to me that the music I liked might have any political implications. I had never heard of Pete Seeger or even of Bob Dylan. At First Things, Lauren Weiner writes about what led up to that brief period when folk music was popular music.
.... The folk revival—a fad sandwiched between the beatniks and the hippies—may have been brief, but it was also the baby boomers’ coming of age, and its echoes have been lasting. Bruce Springsteen made a splash in 2006 with his Seeger Sessions. Ry Cooder paid homage to Woody Guthrie in the 2007 release My Name Is Buddy. Sheryl Crow told Billboard magazine that her song, “Shine Over Babylon,” is “very environmentally conscious, in the tradition of Bob Dylan.”

It’s curious how much the postwar children of prosperity enjoyed hearkening back to hard times. Dylan’s early compositions were full of Dust Bowl references. Odetta was on television rendering the sounds of the chain gang while bathed in a glamorous cabaret spotlight. The Gordon Lightfoot song “Early Morning Rain” (1964) complained that “you can’t jump a jet plane” as easily as you hopped a freight train back in the good old, bad old days. “Green, Green,” Barry McGuire’s 1963 top ten hit, had the perky coeds of the New Christy Minstrels belting out the plea of the Great Depression: “Buddy, can you spare me a dime?” ....

Superficiality did not hinder the music. It sold like hotcakes (at least until the Beatles arrived and made rock ’n’ roll king), and the secondhand quality escaped those of us working up third-hand versions, strumming along with our phonograph records. ....
For me, folk music was just what people my age were listening to — and we were about to move on. But the fad had a background. The article is about the political purposes of those who promoted folk music from the '30s to the '60s. A musical style isn't guilty even if it is favored by adherents of a particularly hideous ideology. Wagner's operas can be (and are) enjoyed by people who hate what Wagner believed. The Nazis admired Beethoven. It wasn't his fault. Stalinists promoted folk music. That doesn't discredit it. But "folk music" was also written as propaganda and many folk musicians functioned, self-consciously, as propagandists:
.... “However loathsome and psychotic” J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was, according to Dave Van Ronk, they “got one thing right: The CP[USA] was the American arm of Soviet foreign policy, no more, no less.” Alan Lomax, broadcasting down-home American music over the radio, did his bit to promote Moscow’s interests, at least in small ways. A Lomax-produced radio show out of CBS in New York called Back Where I Come From, for example....

Premiering in August 1940, Back Where I Come From featured, according to historian Robbie Lieberman, “socially conscious songs and stories, even though not explicitly ‘left’ stuff. For example, someone would sing ‘John Brown’s Body,’ and Lomax would comment, ‘There was a war that was worth fighting’”—implying, the American Civil War was good, but England’s fight against Stalin’s 1940 ally Hitler was bad. One could trace in Lomax’s comments “the CP line during the period of the Nazi–Soviet pact,” writes Lieberman. Lomax’s comrades were even louder on the point: While the pact was in force, Seeger and Guthrie wrote vitriolic anti-Roosevelt songs for the Almanacs to sing about the pointless sacrifice that lay ahead should the president send American boys against the Nazi war machine.

The party line changed when panzer divisions rolled across Russia’s western border in June 1941. This had musical ramifications. Guthrie quickly began inserting anti-Hitler lyrics into his old songs. (He also joined the Merchant Marine, and Seeger was conscripted into the Army.) .... (more)
This was, of course, months before Pearl Harbor brought the US into the war. This reversal — from vehement isolationism to equally vehement interventionism — was a marker that distinguished Moscow-lining American Communists from others on the left and right who continued to argue that the US should stay out of the war, as well as those who had been interventionist right along.

This is, at least to me, a very interesting article—dealing with largely forgotten politics. I recently had a conversation with a young adult who had never heard of the Berlin Wall and didn't know that there had even been an "East" Germany — much less Americans willing to sacrifice their integrity at the behest of Communist directives. I grew up in a period when Communism was the most serious threat to human rights in the world (the Fascists having already been vanquished), and when domestic Communists were regaining a certain respectability (Joe McCarthy having thoroughly discredited naming one — even accurately). Where you stood on Communism mattered a lot, and I find it impossible to admire Americans who were its acolytes.

I still enjoy folk music, although more authentic varieties, and I'm grateful that, whatever their motives, people like Lomax did a lot to preserve it. I also enjoy some songs by ideologically driven "folk singers." For instance, "This Land is Your Land," even knowing it was written as an answer to "God Bless America," which I also like. And many folk songs have little to do with politics at all. Everything isn't political—something Bob Dylan realized long ago—even before he went electric—to the chagrin of the true believers.

Where Have All the Lefties Gone? | First Things

The Theological Commons

Of likely interest to pastors, theological students, students of church history - and perhaps just about anyone - Justin Taylor directs us to the Theological Commons "digital library of 50,022 books on theology and religion" from the Princeton Theological Seminary.

I did a search for "Seventh Day Baptist" and it returned 634 results, the foremost of which were familiar titles by Corliss Fitz Randolph, A.H. Lewis, Albert Rogers, George B. Shaw, George B. Utter, etc. Obviously this was a rather specialized search related to my own interests and there is a vast amount of information made available here.

The major subject headings include Protestantism, Church History, Catholic Church, History, Theology, Bibles, New Testament, Philosophy, Missions, and Language and Literature. There are over 4,000 books from before 1800. Most of the books have a "Send to Kindle" link, and all of them a "View as PDF" download link. I haven't dug very deeply yet, but obviously this is another potentially useful - and free - online resource.

Theological Commons

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"We don't know much..."

As an undergraduate, Christopher DeMuth tried to persuade James Q. Wilson to advise his senior thesis. Wilson declined to do so:
.... As the interview was winding up, I managed to work in a few impressive analogies between his books and the works of earlier political scientists. “That’s right,” he concluded cheerfully as he ushered me to the door. “We don’t know much in this business—but what we do know, we keep repeating.”

That, I would come to learn, was quintessential James Q. Wilson. It was agreeable (“that’s right” was one of his favorite openings), modest, plainspoken, and witty. But then one realized that he had said something important—in this case, crystallizing his realism about the capacities of social science and his conviction that the growth of knowledge is, at best, incremental and laborious. Even an undergraduate could play the J.K. Galbraith game—a sweeping, radical thesis, supported by a few clips from the New York Times and quips from Thorstein Veblen. The Wilson game was infinitely harder, demanding careful study and actual data from empirical measurement and field research, applied at just the right level of theoretical generalization for the problem at hand, to produce a small but confident improvement over what had been understood before. Wilson himself was engaged in numerous such games simultaneously, on subjects ranging from metropolitan development to party politics, from voting behavior to crime control, aiming to discover new knowledge that could help alleviate (he would never say solve) important social problems. ....
Christopher DeMuth, "A Gentleman and a Scholar," The Weekly Standard, March 19, 2012, pp. 25-26.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Impertinent and irrelevant inquiries

Once before I called attention to Tolkien's response to the inquiry from a prospective German publisher of The Hobbit asking for evidence of his "Aryan descent." Letters of Note has posted it in its entirety, along with the historical context. Apparently it isn't known whether this letter was actually sent.

Letters of Note: I have no ancestors of that gifted people

Of that day or hour no one knows

Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition Blog provides an interesting and informative summary of "four general perspectives on eschatology":
  • dispensational premillenialism
  • historical premillenialism
  • amillenialism
  • postmillennialism
He explains the features of each, some variations on the themes, and identifies some of the personalities who identify with each interpretation.

On a not unrelated note, "Harold Camping apologizes for failed Rapture prediction":
Harold Camping, the Northern California preacher whose radio ministry spent millions of dollars last year predicting a fiery apocalypse that failed to materialize has apologized to his followers in an open letter, saying “we humbly acknowledge we were wrong” and “we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world.” ....
The cartoon was on Ray Ortlund's blog yesterday.

Jesus is Coming Back When? – The Gospel Coalition Blog, Harold Camping apologizes for failed Rapture prediction -

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Congregational singing

Jason Helopoulos, guest blogging for Kevin DeYoung, noting that one of the most contentious issues in the "worship wars" has been music, suggests some points about which everyone on every side ought to agree.
  • Biblically Informed Words: Whatever we sing, it must be biblically informed. The song is Christian and meaningful in worship, because of the words sung. If the words are wrong and unbiblical then the song has no place in Christian worship.
  • Theologically Profound Words: The songs we sing as a body before the throne of God should reflect the very nature of God, who He created us to be, and what He desires from us. We are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37). We are to worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The songs that we sing before Him should be filled with the glories of His truth and thus have an air of reverence about them. ....
  • A Simple Tune: Some tunes are just too complex for corporate singing. They may be beautiful, but what good is it if everyone stops singing because they can’t sing it? ....
  • But Not a Simplistic Tune: ....
  • A Consistent Tune: A lament should sound like a lament. A song of thanksgiving should sound like thanksgiving. ....
  • The People’s Voice Being Heard: Congregational singing is congregational singing. .... When God’s people sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” we should be able to hear God’s people sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The loudness of the instruments or the individuals/individual leading the congregation can actually drown out the voices of the congregation. ....
We may not agree on whether we should sing traditional hymns, psalms, contemporary hymns, praise songs, etc. We may disagree about whether congregational worship music should be accompanied by an organ, a piano, guitar, or praise band. But whether we love hymns or songs, traditional or contemporary, it seems like these above points are a starting place in determining what music should be at the center of our congregational singing. [more at the link]
Worship Wars–Proposing a Few Ground Rules – Kevin DeYoung

No free lunch

The issue, which has been obscured by the Limbaugh controversy, is not the availability of contraception — which nobody has advocated outlawing, or even limiting — but the freedom of those with a conscientious objection to it not to be implicated in its provision. Rick Esenberg argues that there is another reason contraception should not be insured:
.... Insurance, properly understood, is a hedge against risk. You pay something now to be covered against an expense that is extraordinary and unpredictable.

You don't insure against routine and ordinary expenses. Our auto insurance, for example, doesn't pay for gas and oil changes. We don't purchase grocery insurance. To do so would not be to buy insurance, but to simply buy the right to have someone else pay our bills. Moreover, as the expenses that we "insure" in this way become more routine and ordinary, the cost of the "insurance" will come to approximate what we'd pay for the goods or services in the absence of insurance — perhaps a little more since we have to compensate the party who we have contracted to pay them for us. There is no free lunch.

Contraception is closer to grocery insurance than it is to insurance against, say, getting cancer or being in a car wreck. Most people will need it for a significant part of their lives and the cost is not high relative to the other goods and services we must obtain. Ms. Fluke's estimate of $1000/yr seems to be wildly overstated and there are, of course, alternatives to birth control pills that are extremely inexpensive if somewhat less desirable. Regardless of religious liberty objections, the case for insuring against the cost of birth control pills is weak. At best and even in the context of a student health plan, it is a transfer of wealth from students who are not sexually active to those who are. The "fairness" in that is not self evident. ....
Mollie Hemingway on how the press has managed to almost completely avoid reporting on the central issue:
By way of introducing what I want to talk about, let’s look at something I read on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page two days ago in “Bishop Dolan’s Liberty Letter: The Catholic Cardinal describes a chilling visit to the White House”:
The debate over the Obama Administration’s birth control mandate has been ingloriously fact-free, even more than usual. So amid demonstrably false claims about a plot to relegate women to the era of “Mad Men,” if not Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692, Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s letter on religious freedom deserves more readers.

“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans,” the archbishop of New York wrote in a public epistle to Catholic bishops last Friday. It’s an eloquent and powerful document, though not one that received much of any media notice. “We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it,” he continues.
That this letter didn’t receive media notice is certainly true, even though it is defiant and accuses the White House of nothing less than asserting raw political power to achieve its goals. I mean, it’s juicy and salacious stuff, as far as these things go. But, you see, the media were too busy talking about really important things, like how to spin an unprecedented attack on religious liberty into something about Rush Limbaugh. Literally. And come on, what’s more important, the Constitution or talk radio? What’s more important, the way the White House treats religious liberty advocates or the way Rush Limbaugh treats abortion-rights activists? I think we all know the answer.

And so there was yet another media blackout of religious liberty activists. Today, I read a Religion News Service article headlined “White House insists contraception talks are on track.” Remember, it’s always about contraception, and never about abortifacients, sterilization, doctrine or religious liberty. .... [more]
Shark and Shepherd: Fluke and Limbaugh; Pills and Insurance, No such thing as free contraception » GetReligion

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let your light so shine...

Although directed to a Catholic audience, this advice from Father Robert Barron is perfectly appropriate for any believer (I've taken the liberty of substituting "Christian" for Father Barron's "Catholic" in these paragraphs.):
.... Many Christians-consciously or unconsciously-censor our own speech out of fear that interjecting religion into public discourse is offensive. To be sure, we should never be aggressive or overbearing in regards to our Faith, but we should never acquiesce to social conventions that require a privatization of our Faith either.

The Faith must be all pervasive, invading and influencing every dimension of our lives: public and private, personal and professional. Allow your Christian convictions to come to verbal expression. If this prompts a reaction or a question, so much better for the Church’s efforts at evangelization. How many people in your circle of acquaintances even know that you are a Christian? I would submit to you that if the answer to that question is few to none, then you are not accomplishing your mission.

Finally, don’t be afraid to pray in public. How many times have you sat down with your family or friends at a restaurant and simply dug into your food without offering a word of thanksgiving? Again, you need not be ostentatious, but a simple, unaffected prayer, publicly offered, can be a powerful witness to the culture. Do you remember that sentimental but effective painting by Norman Rockwell depicting an elderly woman and her grandchildren bowing their heads in prayer before taking a meal in a truck stop? What I’ve always loved are the looks of bewildered admiration on the faces of the regular denizens of the place. Don’t underestimate the evangelical power of demonstrating your faith in public. ....
Let's stop talking about evangelization and do it! :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Today in Madison

When I began my walk this afternoon the temperature was 57. When I got home about an hour later it was 63. Things are looking up. Tomorrow is predicted to be at least as pleasant. I walked around Monona Bay. The lake and the bay are still frozen but the ice fishermen have disappeared - they are wiser than I have sometimes credited them with being. If tomorrow is truly nice I'll hook up the hose and clean off the balcony.

The cellphone picture is from the southwest side of Monona Bay. The building where I live is one of the two light brown towers on the horizon toward the left side of the picture. I make my home in the one furthest left.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Monday, March 5, 2012

Eat thy bread with joy

Reviewing a new book, Kirk Leech argues that "moralism spoils the appetite":
.... Eating is one of life’s most enjoyable sensations. It’s fun and life-enhancing. Yet today, the pleasure of eating is increasingly weighed down with anxiety. Eating, once a relatively uncomplicated activity for many of us, has become laden with ethical and moral meaning and which has been tasked with grandiose political purpose. ....

.... For a growing number of people, making the correct moral food choice allows entry into a social complex of alternative production, distribution and consumption - farmers’ markets, organic lifestyles, co-ops, independent restaurants and stores. Moral consumption is seen as the keys to the door into a better society, a welcome change to the often dismal choices typically posed by environmentalism, which most of the time seems to ask people to give up things they like. ....

.... By viewing the acquisition and consumption of food as an ethical and moral act, we diminish the fundamental pleasure that eating food provides us. By attaching social worth and political meaning to what we eat, and hoping that consumption can make the world a better place, we will not only fail to improve the world, but in the process lose the essential fact that eating should be about enjoyment.

Eating should be seen as pleasure and not penance; something that brings happiness and joy rather than anxiety. ....
"Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe,
Who creates varieties of nourishment."

sp!ked review of books | Why moralism spoils the appetite

Being a Baptist

Via Denny Burk, Spurgeon on believers' baptism:
“If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right… If we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us,—that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, et al., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Chicago: F.H. Revell, 1898), 155.)
More, from James Hamilton at The Gospel Coalition Blog
.... As a Baptist church, we believe that baptism is a matter of obedience. Jesus instructed his followers to baptize disciples (Matt 28:19), so we baptize those who have become disciples because we want to obey Jesus. We also believe that only believers are united to the body of Christ by faith (cf. Gal 3:26-28), so only believers should be welcomed as members into the visible expression of the body of Christ, the local church. If someone is not repenting of all known sin, trusting Christ for salvation, and submitting to all his commands and teaching, we don't welcome him or her into church membership. Since we view baptism as a matter of obedience, we understand unbaptized people to be disobedient on this point. ....

Baptists believe that those who have not been immersed in water as believers to symbolize their union with Christ by faith have not been baptized. Presbyterians and other paedobaptists think they have been baptized, even if they have not been immersed in water as believers.

John Bunyan agreed that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water but felt that he did not have the right to deny church membership to someone who gave evidence of regeneration and believed he had been baptized. William Kiffin's response was that he did not have the right to disregard, and thereby overrule, a command of Jesus.

As Baptists we're not denying that paedobaptists have a right to their own perspective, we are simply maintaining the integrity of our own convictions. Our consciences will not permit us to welcome into membership and communion those who have not obeyed Jesus at the point of baptism.

This is the whole reason there are Baptist churches at all. .... (more)
Denny Burk. Spurgeon on believers' baptism:, Baptism and Church Membership: Sometimes Obedience Results in Painful Separations – The Gospel Coalition Blog

275 years

Almost fifty years ago our parents deposited my brother and me in Shiloh, NJ, for the summer. Dad was attending classes that summer in Upper Montclair. Our uncle, Charles H. Bond, our mother's brother, was the Seventh Day Baptist pastor in Shiloh. His wife, Margaret Skaggs Bond, was our father's sister. So we spent the summer fraternizing, so to speak, with their sons, our double first cousins. And we worshiped at the Shiloh Seventh Day Baptist Church. Our Shiloh Bond cousins, Ron, Phil, and Tim, grew up in that church and are still members there.

I have vivid recollections of the sanctuary, which is still much the same, although there have been modifications to the exterior of the building. Today the denominational site calls attention to a significant upcoming anniversary for that church:
The Shiloh SDB Church, located in Shiloh, New Jersey, will be celebrating their 275th Anniversary.  To mark the significance of this celebration the members of the Shiloh Church will be signing the Church covenant on March 24, 2012.
A history of the Shiloh church indicates that the building in this picture was the third for the congregation, and dates back to 1850. It was gutted by fire in 1934 but was restored in time for the 200th anniversary.

Shiloh New Jersey SDB Church celebrates 275 Years! | Seventh Day Baptist | General Conference of the United States and Canada, History | Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh, NJ

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Silly attacks on religiosity"

James Q. Wilson, from Dec. 24, 2004, on the incoherence of professing tolerance while attacking the liberties of those who profess faith. From "James Q. Wilson: Excerpts from His Writings in The Wall Street Journal":
Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer.... They would be well advised to let matters alone. We have been a free country even though "In God We Trust" is printed on our dollar bills, even though sessions of Congress begin with a prayer, and even though chaplains paid for by our tax dollars are part of our military forces. Our freedom does not depend on eliminating these acknowledgments of the power of religion; it relies instead on the fact that for many generations we have embraced a secular government operating in a religious culture.

That embrace will be weakened, not strengthened, by silly attacks on religiosity, stimulating the spiritual to question the seriousness of people who profess a concern for civil liberties.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"If morality is...nothing but convention or artifice...."

James Q. Wilson

James Q. Wilson died yesterday. He was one of the most distinguished political scientists of our age. It seems as though I have been reading him all of my adult life. He was a neoconservative in the original iteration of the label,* that is, primarily concerned with domestic social policy. Among a great many achievements, an article he co-wrote, "Broken Windows," effected a change in policing and criminal justice that made the urban world much safer.

John Podhoretz, at Commentary where Wilson often published, yesterday called attention to Wilson's "What Is Moral, and How Do We Know It?" An excerpt from early in that essay:
.... I am inclined to think that most people most of the time live lives of ordinary decency as they struggle to raise children, earn a living, and retain the respect of their friends. But we cannot dismiss the possibility that what many intellectuals have come to discredit some people will come to ignore. If morality is thought to be nothing but convention or artifice, then it will occur to those persons who are weakly attached to society and its rules that they are free to act as they wish provided they can get away with it. And if they would have broken the rules anyway, the relativism of our age makes it easier for them to justify their action by the claim that the rules are arbitrary enactments.

I wish to argue for an older view of human nature, one that assumes that people are naturally endowed with certain moral sentiments. We have a peculiar, fragile, but persistent disposition to make moral judgments, and we generally regard people who lack this disposition to be less than human. Despite our wars, crimes, envies, snobberies, fanaticisms, and persecutions, there is to be found a desire not only for praise but for praiseworthiness, for fair dealings as well as for good deals, for honor as well as for advantage. These desires become evident when we think disinterestedly about ourselves or others.

To say that there exists a natural moral sense (or, more accurately, several moral senses) is to say that there are aspects of our moral life that are universal, a statement that serious thinkers from Aristotle to Adam Smith had no trouble in accepting. In this view, cultural diversity, though vast, exotic, and bewildering, is not the whole story. In modern times, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists have sought for scientific evidence by which the existence of such universals could be proved; a few claim to have found it, but most feel that they have not. This has left most scholars skeptical about whether anything of universal significance can be said about our moral life. The box score has been something like this: Relativists 10, Universalists 1.

I am reckless enough to think that many conducting this search have looked in the wrong places for the wrong things because they have sought for universal rules rather than universal dispositions. It would be astonishing if many of the rules by which men lived were everywhere the same, since rules (or customs) reflect the adjustment of moral sensibilities to the realities of economic circumstances, social structures, and family systems. Hence one should not be surprised to find that the great variety of these conditions has produced an equally great variety in the rules by which they are regulated. Even so, some universal rules have been discovered: those against incest, for example, or against homicide in the absence of defined excusing conditions.

To find what is universal about human nature, we must look behind the rules and the circumstances that shape them to discover what fundamental dispositions, if any, animate them all in common. If such universal dispositions exist, we would expect them to be so obvious that travelers would either take them for granted or overlook them in preference to whatever is novel or exotic. .... [more]
Commentary has made available everything they published by James Q. Wilson, beginning in 1966. And here can be found all of the articles appearing in The Public Interest, also beginning in 1966. The most recent, contributing to a symposium: "Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: James Q. Wilson", was in the November 2011 Commentary. He refused to be either.

* "The view that we know less than we thought we knew about how to change the human condition came, in time, to be called neoconservatism. Many of the writers [for The Public Interest], myself included, disliked the term because we did not think we were conservative, neo or paleo. (I voted for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and worked in the latter's presidential campaign.) It would have been better if we had been called policy skeptics; that is, people who thought it was hard, though not impossible, to make useful and important changes in public policy." [WSJ, Sept. 21, 2009]